Penal system badly in need of overhaul

The almost daily pictures of young men and an increasing number of women being sent to Her Majesty’s Prisons Dodds to serve
time is not only disturbing, to say the least, but an undeniable reminder that the island’s lone jail is under pressure.

Her Majesty’s Prisons Dodds
Her Majesty’s Prisons Dodds

This island has unfinished business to tackle when it comes to prison reform, and the sooner we face it, the better.

Attorney General Adriel Brathwaite, who has already sounded his support for alternative sentencing, reportedly met with key members of his ministry today to discuss the introduction of electronic monitoring in order to reduce the number of people being remanded to Dodds.

Even without the latest figures on the numbers at the St Philip facility, constructed in October, 2007, to house 1,500 plus inmates, it’s not difficult to make a case for urgent changes, if one considers the amount of taxpayers dollars it takes to run the facility, and, secondly, the need to give offenders a better chance at turning their lives around.

Thus we find no fault with the Attorney General’s move to examine the pro and cons of electronic monitoring to possibly help ease the burden, but we emphasize there must be frank disclosure on the matter and even consultation on the way forward.

Interestingly, the discussion comes as some of our Caribbean neighbours take a different approach to address prison overcrowding.

Two days ago, Antigua and Barbuda’s Attorney General Steadroy Benjamin announced that 100 convicts would be released early from jail next month in keeping with government’s promise to reduce severe overcrowding at Her Majesty’s Prison.

There are reportedly 399 inmates at the island’s lone jail, which was originally built to accommodate 150.

Last year, President David Granger at Guyana’s last Independence Day released 60 convicts sentenced for non-violent offences, and
then another 11 prisoners at Christmas.

Said Mr Granger: “I intend to do this every Christmas for mothers and every Independence Day for young persons,” despite a strong outcry from some sections of the public.

While we note that one of the most discussed reforms is to release non-violent convicts on the grounds that it is both inhumane and expensive to keep men and women incarcerated for less serious crimes, we would be more reluctant to recommend Barbados go the route
of its counterparts in St John’s and Georgetown.

Pardoning is and can be a good thing, but it is not a light matter.
In theory, it all makes sense. But it is not so simple.

There must first be a reliable way to evaluate offenders, so we know whom we are releasing. The public’s safety remains paramount and must not be compromised.

Simple questions will naturally be raised over who make the recommendations for those pardoned.

Secondly, issues will arise about who will verify that these non-violent offenders have been reformed –– not to repeat their crimes, no matter how petty?

Thirdly, is there a plan or a support system to reintegrate offenders into the society so that they are not forced to return to a life of crime.

Furthermore, it is clear that under our current penal system we have to do a better job at treating some of the root causes of crime; for example, drug addiction.

In this way we can seriously implement strategies to lower the number of people who return to prison over and over again; while at the same time take steps to reduce unnecessarily strong punitive sentences.

Pardons are not an effective prison management tool.

We aver that a comprehensive plan and not a knee-jerk reaction –– one that involves the full input of all stakeholders, from family to the judicial system –– is best needed to overhaul our penal system.

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